Expungement in Minnesota

Posted over 4 years ago. Applies to Minnesota, 6 helpful votes


Expungement in Minnesota is often misunderstood. Expungement is a request to seal judicial and/or executive branch records, so that they cannot be obtained by the public. Judicial records are held by the courts and include records of conviction. They also include records in which the case was dismissed or the defendant was acquitted. Executive branch records are those held by police agencies, including, most notably, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension ("BCA"). The BCA maintains comprehensive records of conviction. The FBI does the same. If you seal judicial records but not executive branch records, you haven't improved your situation much at all because most background checks seek executive branch records. The quintessential problem with expungement is that many defendants will be unable to seal executive branch records, and therefore, will not benefit from the expungement process. However, if you never were convicted and never pled guilty to the offense, you likely can benefit from expungement. For a helpful guide, see http://www.mncourts.gov/selfhelp/?page=276 (http://www.mncourts.gov/selfhelp/?page=276).

There are two bases for the expungement of criminal records in Minnesota. First, there's the statutory basis of Minn. Stat. 609A (https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=609A), which permits expungement of criminal cases "resolved in favor" of the defendant. To be "resolved in favor" of the defendant typically means that criminal case never resulted in a conviction and the defendant never pled guilty to an offense. The statutory basis also permits expungement of certain controlled substance crimes and crimes where a juvenile was prosecuted as an adult. On the whole, few defendants meet the "resolved in favor" of the defendant requirement because they pled guilty to the offense or were convicted of the offense at trial.

The second basis for expungement is the court's inherent judicial authority. The court possesses inherent authority to expunge criminal records when expungement is "necessary to prevent serious infringement of constitutional rights." On the whole, it is difficult for a defendant to establish that expungement is necessary to prevent serious infringement of constitutional rights because it is the rare case involving a conviction premised on a constitutional rights violation. Nonetheless, courts also can exercise inherent authority to expunge cases "under appropriate circumstances," but those "appropriate circumstances" have not been defined precisely by the court. However, in a case where such "appropriate circumstances" are present, the court must decide whether expungement will yield a benefit to the defendant commensurate with the disadvantages to the public from the elimination of the record and the burden on the court in issuing, enforcing, and monitoring an expungement order. Counseling restraint in the exercise of the judiciary's inherent expungement authority, the Minnesota Supreme Court has explained that "this authority of the court extends only to its unique judicial functions," and that "courts must proceed cautiously in exercising that authority in order to respect the equally unique authority of the executive and legislative branches of government over their constitutionally authorized functions." Thus, even if a defendant establishes "appropriate circumstances" for the court to exercise its inherent authority to expunge records, the court often will not extend such expungement to executive branch records out of deference to separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches.

In sum, it will be the rare case where the court will use its "inherent authority" to expunge both judicial and executive branch records (BCA records) for a defendant. For a recent decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court on this issue, see http://www.lawlibrary.state.mn.us/archive/supct/0809/OPA061750-0904.pdf (http://www.lawlibrary.state.mn.us/archive/supct/0809/OPA061750-0904.pdf).

Disclaimer: This guide is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. For actual legal advice specific to your circumstances, consult an attorney in your state.

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